trying to understand

About this we have much to say that is hard to explain, since you have become dull in understanding. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.

Hebrews 5:11-14

Life brings with it many questions. Some are over simple matters in which we can often get quick satisfactory answers. Other things are more difficult to try to figure out, and some things don’t yield easy answers at all. Living in “the information age” we expect everything to be at our fingertips, just a press away, and perhaps the solution shipped to our door or readily accessible to us one way or another. We tend to be impatient over matters which may yield no answer right away, taking time.

Scripture not only mirrors life with real life characters, but like life, often yields no easy answers for us. Scripture can seem a mystery to us, to those without the Spirit- foolishness or making no sense, and to young followers of Christ, often difficult at best even while intriguing and interesting.

I often don’t read Scripture to try to understand, but simply to see or receive whatever God might give me through it. But when we are stuck on something, it’s good to slow down, turn it over and over in our minds again, and prayerfully try to understand. The book of Hebrews from which is the passage quoted above, is often challenging. One needs to be in all of Scripture which will help. And read it discerningly with the help of Bible scholars who dig into the original meaning of the Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic, the original languages in which the Bible was written, along with a cultural understanding derived from written accounts and archaeology. And we need to seek to read and discern together, a staple of the faith tradition of which I’m a part.

We have to keep at it, or as the writer to the Hebrews above warns us, we are in danger of falling away. It’s either pressing on toward maturity, not giving up, trying to understand, or not doing that. One or the other.

God will help us as we continue on, trying to find whatever it is that God has for us, as well as trying to understand all of its application to all of our lives. In and through Jesus.

needed wisdom on our way to maturity

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.

James 1:2-5

The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha, New Revised Standard Version makes the interesting observation that though trials are meant to give us wisdom, we can ask God for wisdom in the midst of, and before that process is complete (my interpretation of what is said there). We desperately do need God’s wisdom along the way to help us. Trials are not easy to go through, and yes, while we consider such as nothing but joy, anticipating the maturity with the wisdom that comes out of that, nevertheless along the way we not only can, but this passage seems to suggest that we should ask God for needed wisdom.

This seems to me to be another padding helping us through this process. We know good is going to come out of it, if we hang in there and go through it. And God is present to give us wisdom to help us do so. A wisdom not meant to replace the process, but instead to help us through it. In and through Jesus.

don’t despise what’s simple (the example here for the anxious, like me)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-9

We can often look at the simple as simplistic. And maybe somehow beneath us? That may or may not be what we need to humble us. But whatever may be the case, we dare not discount and put aside what might seem too obvious, for something more sophisticated and complex, even if we think that our problem is complex. It surely is, but we need to remember too that what is simple is often quite profound.

And this is no less the case in the above Scripture passage. What if we like myself, who are so prone to anxiety would start to put this passage into practice? I know there might be some who would roll their eyes thinking that this is like using a precious promise book, strewn with maybe a hundred verses we’re supposed to claim. It would be good to read the entire book of Philippians, for sure, and meditate on it all, and we need to do that, too.

Remember, the exercise itself will be beneficial, even if one is still lost in anxiety. What is true about those who suffer anxiety as I have over the years, is that the real problem is not the problem itself, but the anxiety. If one is not anxious about one thing, they’ll be anxious about something else. When one anxiety is lifted, there will be another anxiety to take its place. And what one finds out is that basically the approach to life is to be anxious, more or less filled with anxiety.

Instead we need to take this simple yet not simplistic approach of mouthing the above Scripture passage, for example, maybe after we’ve memorized it. And seeking to put it into practice in the midst of our day. If we stay at it, we’ll find eventually that the cloud will lift, that God will honor that. Always in the context of a life in which we are committed to following the Lord. Yes, in view of the full letter of Philippians, and all the rest God has given and will give us. In and through Jesus.

we are in process

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:3-6

Over and over again, I’m reminded that we are people in process. The good and most important thing to remember is that it is God at work in our lives. We likely wish we were further along than we are, I know I do.

We really need to hold on to this truth that we as followers of Jesus. And that it is God doing the work, not we ourselves. God who began this good work in us will indeed carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus, when Jesus returns.

This helps me as I consider my own life as well as the lives of others. We need to take our hands off. It’s God’s work, not our own. The change in our lives comes only because of that. Maybe this means we need to be more in prayer.

There are things I’m not sure about. It does seem clear to me that we can get in the way of God’s working, and impede it. But God works around and even through those ways that we can get in the way, I suppose. I often wish I could just do what I know I ought to do. Like rest in God’s peace instead of being anxious about this or that. It’s a maturing, growth process, and all of Scripture in one way or another is meant to help us in that.

The one thing we can take away from Paul’s words here for sure: God who began the good work in us in Christ will finish it. We can mark that down in stone, but more importantly God has written that change into our hearts to unfold in our lives toward the goal of making us the people we’re supposed to be, through Jesus fully human and unique in our person as God intended. All of us together in this, Paul addressing not just individuals here, but the entire church. In and through Jesus.

processing over time

I am so to speak a word processor. And it takes time for me to get to what might take others an instant. I don’t know why, though I have some guesses. Part of it is surely the weakness of often not being able to make up my mind, and then later regretting a decision. Almost like a knee jerk reaction, I usually do that, second guessing myself.

I am beginning to understand that a large part of it is probably just trying to sift through everything. To consider each part and the whole. All of that takes time. Thoughts primarily, but experience as well, and all that goes into life.

We’re all “wired” differently. One way of being is not at all better than another. We actually all need each other. I’m glad there are others who have quicker insights into things enough to make some hard decisions immediately with clarity. I tend to ask the “what if” questions. It takes a while to be solidified along a certain line. When we get there we can make split second decisions when need be, and stick with them.

This reminds me of people in Scripture like Daniel and the John of the Revelation. And others. Life is a process, and we all change over time, hopefully for the better. We need to accept that we’ll be at a loss certain times. Not settled. That is actually kind of where I’m at right now. Yes, settled in the faith. But not necessarily how that faith plays out in this world. More time in Scripture, prayer and in life for me. As I seek to sort it out with others. In and through Jesus.

don’t shun the process

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2

We modern people don’t like process. People of first world nations often either have everything at their fingertips, or can get everything else in a day or two or three. Instant access. Anything that takes any especially considerable length of time is a conundrum to us. It’s just something which doesn’t register into our consideration.

And the triumphalism found in some churches plays right into this. We can meet God now, have it now. Why the struggle? Get slain in the Spirit or whatever, and you can go on, a new person. It’s not like unusual experiences might not be helpful in one way or another. But by and large it’s the process that we as followers of Jesus should be after.

Paul in the above passage was not referring to something that happens overnight. Becoming conformed to the pattern of this world takes time. It’s incremental but more and more complete as we imbibe the spirit and attitude of the world, almost like breathing the air and taking in what might be both healthy and that which is definitely toxic, not really requiring effort at all.

Instead we as followers of Jesus are to be changing by the renewing of our minds. That does require active participation on our part. The renewing of our minds by more and more understanding God’s will for us, not only in our heads, but in our lives, down to earth right where we live. This is not just a one time command or directive, but ongoing. Day after day after day, the rest of our lives. That we might increasingly know and settle into God’s good will for us. In and through Jesus.

true faith is ongoing

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

John 6:60-69

A basic teaching of Scripture is the truth that it’s not enough to start. We must continue on and finish. You see this over and over again in story and specific directive teaching.

The life of faith is not just a beginning, but a process with an ending. It involves ongoing change. And difficulty in understanding it all or at all at times is part and parcel of it all.

Note the passage above (click link for context). Many disciples, yes disciples left Jesus at a certain point. They wouldn’t follow any longer; his words were just too much for them.

Are there times when we simply don’t know, but by faith continue on? Yes, yes, and yes some more. Peter’s words are instructive for us here. They center not on specific teaching per se, but rather on Christ himself. For me, it’s continual, to some extent, constant interaction with God’s inscripturated word, which itself points to and is fulfilled in the Word himself, Jesus. But in ways not always readily received or appreciated.

The point is that we need to continue on following Jesus. In and through him.

 

 

in process open ended

Life is strange in the sense that as you go on you realize certain things will remain the same, but that the unexpected is inevitable. So that should lend a certain kind of stability in the midst of change.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

Hebrews 11:8

God is faithful, God’s promises are certain, fulfilled in Jesus. But life is uncertain. We don’t really know what will happen from one day to the next, or what the outcome will be. Except again that God will keep his promises in Jesus. And so by faith we carry on.

It’s like a wild ride at an adventure park. You  believe you’re safe, and that you’ll arrive at “home” in the end, but getting there is another thing altogether. And it seems to me we’d all be much better off realizing this is true throughout life. We’re in process, and it’s open ended, but with an altogether good destination. In and through Jesus.

 

breaking through “same old, same old” into new ground

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

We’re up against something that is either new, or maybe more likely something we’ve faced time and time again. And the experience of it has been nothing to write home about. Not good to say the least.

What if instead of accepting that kind of experience in the midst of trial, we determine right away to choose God’s will, specifically his promise given to us in Scripture? We do so by simply praying, looking to God in faith. We can’t expect our experience to change in an instant, but it will change.

And what can be underrated is the process itself. We are turning our face in a different direction entirely, away from the gloom and doom to God’s light. The effect of doing that will change us. And then we might be able to see some things that in the darkness we could not have possibly seen before. Persevering in endurance in that process, so that God might continue to grow us toward full maturity in and through Jesus.

the cloudy days, the dark nights

There are times when we don’t see clearly enough. That’s because life is experienced. When we feel unsettled, that is when we can become prone to veer off course. Though at times that can be good, since we may not be on the right course. Unfortunately we can have a false light and peace as well, so we can’t live on our feelings. But the experience of our emotions is a part of life, of who we are as humans. One of the reasons that the psalms are so wonderful, since they help us work through our struggles with God.

Oftentimes the psalmist is beset by trouble, sometimes life threatening, or perceived as such. What helps us is to see the process. The psalmist doesn’t deny what they are passing through and experiencing. They question God, or even acknowledge that they feel lost, seemingly are lost. But they also acknowledge their faith in God, in God’s goodness, and in light of God’s might saving acts. And they end up by and by praising him.

That is what I’ve found again and again. Though it really is hard when we’re smack dab in the middle of the storm, or darkness. Or when we go through a long season in which we know the sun is present, but the sky is overcast, sometimes threatening. And the sun hardly if at all ever breaks through. But in time the trouble will pass. Or more precisely, God’s light and the peace that brings will break through. As we experience something of God’s saving work in and through Jesus.

Here’s one of the psalms that illustrate the point made here:

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.

The cords of death entangled me,
the anguish of the grave came over me;
I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
Lord, save me!”

The Lord is gracious and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the unwary;
when I was brought low, he saved me.

Return to your rest, my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.

For you, Lord, have delivered me from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.

I trusted in the Lord when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted”;
in my alarm I said,
“Everyone is a liar.”

What shall I return to the Lord
for all his goodness to me?

I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.

Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his faithful servants.
Truly I am your servant, Lord;
I serve you just as my mother did;
you have freed me from my chains.

I will sacrifice a thank offering to you
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord
in your midst, Jerusalem.

Praise the Lord.